Posts tagged ‘Africa’

Sometimes cheese is good, even without crackers – a few books with few thoughts

I believe April has been my frivolous reading month.  I have enjoyed every book but I must admit there has been a lot of silliness that may or may not be corrected in May.  This Spring need not be the time for the mandolin read I guess.  So, if you are looking for the shallow but fun I really would suggest checking out any of these books:

1. “Mariana” by Susanna Kearsley, Published in 2012: This book is about a woman torn between two different periods of her soul (she is reincarnated) and trying to find love in both the 1700s and the present.  That is seriously what this book is about and I absolutely loved it.  It had just the right amount of romantic ridiculous and time travel and suspense to make this girl very happy.  Of course all readers who enjoy a good love story probably remember Kearsley from “Winter Sea.”  Set in the English Countryside, Julia keeps running into the same farmhouse in her country travels.  Each time she drives by it her car stalls.  One day she decides to ask about the house, only to find out it is for sale. Of course she buys it and of course there is a reason she is drawn to the house.  Her soul has been there in a previous life – obviously.  Did that just give you the chills? No? Oh well, you still should read it.

2. Sharp Objectsby Gillian Flynn, Published in 2007: From the marginally good author who brought you “Gone Girl.” Flynn is good at suspense but her earlier books before “Gone Girl” are weighted down with a lot of story.  It is almost like she wants to fit every episode of “Law and Order” into one book. She is still fun to read.  The main character Camille is a reporter for a suburban Chicago newspaper.  When two girls from her hometown in Missouri are killed and found missing all of their teeth, Camille’s editor sends her home to cover the story. Of course, for Camille, returning home has all kinds of implications. Suffering from severe mental health issues, Camille’s recovery is tested by her wacky mother and her sadistic half-sister.  Flynn likely read a lot of V.C. Andrews during puberty so she has a great handle on creepy.  But I promise no one gets locked in the attic.

3. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agencyby Alexander McCall Smith, Published in 2005:  Out of the three this book is wonderfully well-written (honestly, it should not be included in this review of fluff pieces).   When Precious receives her inheritance after the death of her father she decides to open Botswana’s first detective agency owned by a woman. Making her agency the top agency owned by a woman in the country – not unlike being valedictorian when home-schooled.  While there is one case that runs through-out the book, each chapter is a vignette of a mystery that Precious solves for her neighbors.  The characters are endearing, the end of the book is sweet, and it is not a surprise that readers wanted more so this became a series.

And there you have it.  My final reads for the month.  All fun, no real substance but one very happy reader.  On to the next book…

Old schoolbooks

Photo by Kerstin Frank

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April 29, 2013 at 12:43 pm 4 comments

“Where there’s life, there’s hope”- “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay

The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay, Published in 1989 

Cover of "The Power of One: A Novel"

Cover of The Power of One: A Novel

This is a tough review to write because I don’t think I can do this book justice.  Let me just start by saying this book has an amazing heart to it and the characters are beautiful.

This novel is set in South Africa during the 1930s and early 1940s.  The narrator, Peekay, is a young white South African boy of English descent.  The novel follows Peekay through his childhood, beginning with him being sent to a Boer (descendants of the Dutch settlers) boarding school while his mother is in a psychiatric hospital recovering from a nervous breakdown. Peekay learns quickly that he is the wrong kind of white, as the Boers still resent the English for the Boar Wars, and spends his time at school being severely bullied and abused.  After beginning, at the tender age of 6 years old, to question his value, Peekay is fortunate enough to meet a series of amazing people who help him survive and thrive.

Peekay first meets Hoppie on one of his train rides him from boarding school.  Hoppie is a boxer and in his short time with Peekay he convinces him that even small, timid Peekay can dream of being the welterweight champion of the world.  And Hoppie perhaps gives Peekay the most important advice of his life stating that he must act “first with the head, then with the heart.” With this new goal of becoming a world class boxer, Peekay’s life takes on a new purpose and he begins viewing himself and his persecutors in a different light.

Once Peekay is done with boarding school, he moves back home with his grandpa and his newly born-again (and questionably sane) mother.  Back home he becomes friends with an older German professor, “Doc,” who teaches him about cacti, music and the art of independant thought.  The two become inseparable during Peekay’s summers and with Doc’s help Peekay advances quickly in school but still never forgets about boxing.

At the beginning of WWII, Doc is detained in the English concentration camp and is to remain there for the duration of the war.  The concentration camp is also a prison for Zulus and Afrikkans who are forced to work hard labor while serving their time.  During Doc’s imprisonment, Peekay is able to visit him daily, continuing his music lessons, but more importantly he begins taking boxing lessons from some of the guards and a very talented Afrikkan prisoner.  Over time Peekay becomes a fairly talented boxer.  He begins fighting in junior leagues and winning – proof that winning is not about size but about making the right choices.  More importantly, as Peekay spends time in the prison he begins to see the cruelty of apartheid and the significant harm that the misuse of power can bring.  Quite accidentally Peekay becomes the voice of the Afrikkan and Zulu prisoners and eventually becomes a legend.

Courtenay deftly weaves the political strife and tragic history of South Africa into Peekay’s story. He is a great story-teller but clearly has a message.  Somehow Courtenay is able to gently deliver the message without making the reader feel that the book is inundated with heavy-handed superiority. That seems to make that message all the more poignant.

To be clear, this is not a book about boxing, though in some ways this sport saves Peekay’s life.  It is a book about coming of age. It is a book about loss and hardship.  It is about learning to stand up for what is clearly right even when it would seem that you may be standing all alone.  And regardless of how boring I have managed to make it sound, it is an amazing story of survival and hope.

  “I learned that in each of us there burns a flame of independence that must never be allowed to go out.  That as long as it exists within us we cannot be destroyed.”

July 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm 1 comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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